India remain leading milk producing nation in the world. In 2013-14, Indian milk production was about 138 million tonne taking the average per capita milk availability to 307 g against recommended norms of 290 g/day/person. To thiseffect, the cow has a special place in the traditional rituals in the country. According to the 19th Livestock Census, there are about 300 million bovines of which, 190.9 million are cattle that includes 151.17 million indigenous and 39.73 million crossbred/exotic cattle. Among the indigenous cattle, only 22.21 million heads (11.64%) have been described and categorized into 44 different populations including 39 distinct/registered breeds. Cattle being the source of livelihood for landless and resource poor farmers, distribution of cattle amongst various categories of animal keepers revealed that marginal, small and semi-medium farmers on an average have about 89% of total cattle. The indigenous cattle, in particular, have been instrumental in providing milk, milk products, draught power, bio-fertilizer and bio-fuel besides producing biomolecules and other products beneficial for human health.
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The indigenous cattle breeds are generally classified on the basis of their utility like milch breeds (Sahiwal, Red Sindhi, Gir and Rathi), draught breeds (Hallikar, Khillar, Nagauri, Kangayam, Red Kandhari etc.) and dual purpose breeds (Tharparkar, Hariana, Kankrej, Deoni, Ongole, Dangi, Kenkatha etc.). These unique breeds have been developed over a period of thousands of years through dedicated efforts of livestock keepers/pastoralists and other stakeholders in different agro-climatic regions of the country. Majority of the Indian cattle breeds were initially developed for draught animal power. For instance, they possess unique genes for higher thermo-tolerance, greater resistance to tropical diseases and better feed conversion efficiency under low or zero input system. The productivity of indigenous/non-descript cattle is reported to be 2.5 kg/cow against 6.67 kg/cow of crossbred and exotic cows.
There is a global consensus on the conservation of animal genetic resources for sustainable development.The concern today is the declining population of indigenous cattle, while the population of crossbred cattle has increased. The comparison of cattle population as per 19th Livestock Census (2012) with 18th Livestock Census (2007) revealed a decline of 4.1% in total cattle population. The According to 19th Livestock CensUS;, there are about 300 million bovines ofwhich~ 190.9 million are cattle that includes 151.17 million indigenous and 39.73 million crossbred/exotic cattle. Among the indigenous cattle~ only 22.21 million heads (11.64%) were described and categorized into 44 different populations including 39 distinct/registered breeds. focus more on genetic upgradation of indigenous/native cattle using superior semen from progeny tested/pedigree selected bulls and by expanding artificial insemination (AI) and natural service network to provide services at the farmers' doorstep. If 10% of non-descript share of indigenous cattle to total cattle population has declined from 93% during 1992 to 79% during 2012.On the contrary, the share of crossbred cattle has increased from 7% to 21%, respectively. The decline in indigenous cattle population was -8.94%, while the exotic/crossbred cattle population increased by 20.2%. As per 2012 Livestock census, out of 61.95 million males of indigenous cattle, 39.85 millions are used for draught work, 2.98 million used for both draught and breeding purpose and 2.08 million use for breeding only. This indicates that 44.91 million males (79.25%) have been used every year and about 17 million indigenous males are still surplus in our country. Hence, efforts should be made to increase the population of female cattle by using sexed semen of indigenous bulls after perfecting the technique of semen sexing.
In the past, exotic germplasm has been used to develop crossbred cattle as 'Freiswal (HFxSahiwal); Sunandini (Brown Swiss x Local); Karan Fries (HF xTharparkar), Karan Swiss (Brown Swiss x Sahiwal x Red Sindhi) and Vrindavani (HF x Brown Swiss x Jersey x Hariana). In addition to the indigenous breeds of animals, there are large number of non-descript livestock species that also are being used by farmers for various purposes. Their populations need to be characterized, evaluated for economic and adaptive traits such as resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses,feed conversion efficacy, high productivity etc. The ability of our indigenous breeds to withstand extreme climatic conditions and resistance to diseases in particular, need to be exploited for further development of local breeds. Further, advances in modern science could be utilized to scale up therapeutic and biomolecules for human use. Through our interventions under the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture, it has been observed that about 40 breeds of indigenous cattle have innate potential to adapt to diverse changing climatic conditions of hot arid, humid tropical and temperate climates and better resistance to internal and external parasites and diseases. With nomadism as the strategy for pastoralists, tremendous indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) is proven attached to cattle and livestock management. The Government of India has announced a focused programme on the 'Improvement of Indigenous Cattle' and in alignment with this, the Council has prioritized maintenance of genetic diversity of indigenous breeds with a vision ofenhancing the cattle population of the country from the existing 25% to 40% by 2030, and focus more on genetic upgradation of indigenous/native cattle using superior semen from progeny tested/pedigree selected bulls and by expanding artificial insemination (AI) and natural service network to provide services at the farmers' doorstep. If 10% of non-descript indigenous cattle are graded up with milch breeds in a period of 5 years and assuming 4 kg/cow/day milk production in next generation, additional 27.2 million kg milk/day would be produced adding about 10 million tonnes milk/annum to national average. Further, the disease diagnostic facilities needs to be further strengthened in various regions of the country. Besides this, cheap pen side diagnostic kits needs to be developed and vaccination schedule for various diseases needs to be followed religiously. Research on designing thermo-stable vaccines is an important key area and will help in effective delivery under field conditions, followed by awareness and training to the smallholders, especially women to ensure adoption of new technologies for enhancing productivity of cattle.
Overall, the milk productivity of indigenous cattle needs to be enhanced using breeding, feeding and health management interventions. Further, mining of unique genes and bio-prospecting of special utility traits, biomolecules, products etc. of indigenous cattle would enhance the net economic worth of Indian cattle. The Government of India has implemented the 'Rashtr;ya Gokul Mission' to conserve and develop indigenous bovine breeds. Improving indigenous cattle and developing branded cow milk and other products using the IKS available with pastoralists and cow keepers, and creation of niche markets for these products would empower the stakeholders in general and rural women in particular to ensure livelihood security. To enable this, the Council attempts to conduct breed-wise livestock census, developing a roadmap for breeding and conservation of indigenous cattle, in order to enhance the overall agricultural production, productivity and quality in the country.